A Brief History of early Hand County, South Dakota
Hand County, South Dakota
Includes extractions from South Dakota - A State To Behold, compiled and published in 1975 by SD Extension Homemakers. Book contains brief histories for all SD counties.
More early history and surnames can be found under individual town links on
Hand County South Dakota page, and the HAND COUNTY NEWS newspaper site..
A brief history - - - -
Hand County was created in 1873 and organized in 1888.  It was named for George W. Hand, a native of Akron, Ohio, and a Civil War Veteran. He came to Yankton in 1865.  In 1860 he was appointed United States Attorney for Dakota Territory, serving until 1869. From 1874 to 1883, he was Register of the Yankton Land Office and Secretary of Dakota Territory.

The Chicago, Northwestern Railroad was laid from Tracy, Minnesota to Pierre in the fall of 1880, and crossed central Hand County.

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Shephard and children were the first to reside in Hand County, arriving at the railroad's  Siding # 3 in the summer of 1880 where Mr. Shephard had been sent to act as siding master.

Siding No. 3 was the site of Hand County's first post office, named Rex (Latin for 'King') by John M. King, an 1881 settler. The Sedam family were also 1881 settlers.  By late 1881 many settlers began arriving and Siding #3 was to become the town of St. Lawrence.

Miller was named for and by Henry Miller, an Iowa native. He and his son, E. J., came to the site on July 7, 1881.  Liking what they saw,  they went back to Iowa and in September they and 22 other men returned. Each man had a job and did it,  and the town soon took shape.

The first post office in Miller was opened in October, 1881, with W. H. Miller as postmaster.

The city of Miller was organized in 1882.

W. H. and E. J. Miller began the Hand County Press, January 2, 1882. This was the first newspaper between Huron and Pierre. In August, 1882, S. L. Sage established the Dakota State Journal. Mrs. Will Crecilius edited a newspaper at her husband's store on the west shores of Spring lake. When she ran out of printing paper she used wrapping paper. This paper is preserved by the State Historical Society at its Museum in Pierre.

On December 12, 1881, Henry Miller established a "subscription school", requiring the student to pay $2.00 and furnish his own books, table and chair. The school was held in the second story of the Leaw Gromman building, and was taught by A. M. Chubbick. The first public school opened June 25, 1882. The first county superintendent was R. L. Smith.

Dr Clara Bates Owens was a pioneer woman doctor who ministered to all of the county.

The Old Opera house was built in 1886 in Miller. During its life it housed a skating rink, auditorium, store and hospital.

In 1882, Miller and St. Lawrence had a bitter contest for county seat, with Miller winning by a scant margin. Again in 1888, St. Lawrence petitioned for an election for county seat. Miller circulated petitions at this time, too. When the signatures were checked it was found hundreds of men had signed both. An election was set for October, 1888, but the two-thirds majority needed to move the county seat failed and it remained at Miller.

The Citizen's State Bank, Miller, opened November, 1883, with W. H. Waters as cashier.

Henry Miller and Sons built the Miller Roller Mills in 1885. Customers came from many areas, some as far as Onida (Sully County).

Telephones came into use in 1898 when a toll line was run from Huron (Beadle County) into the county.

Polo was named by founder Abram Buck for his home town in Illinois. Polo Catholic High School still serves this area. [No longer - CSR]

In 1883, near Zell (originally called Maria Zell), Mother Gertrude and two Sisters obtained land for their own order by homesteading. These nuns did all their own work to prove upon their land. Although Zell is north of Hand County, the convent was located just south, in Plato Township, Hand County.

Vayland was named for pioneer landowner, J. D. McVeiqh. (McVay ? csr)

The first Extension Club organized 1916 in Rosehill Township. No records are available.

The Ed Proctor log house, once located south of Vayland, has been moved to Huron and is a preserved historic building. The logs for it were hauled from Wessington Gulch in the Wessington Hills.

The Presbyterians began meeting in 1881. On June 25, 1882, the Methodists had their first Sunday School classes and by May, 1884, had started a church building. In 1882, the Evan Newell family held services in their home. In 1886, they built Beulah church.

James 0. Dean homesteaded in Burdette Township in 1883. He built a store and was first postmaster at Burdette. He also drove a mail route between Miller and Redfield for many years. He was state representative for the county at one time.

Named for the nearby Ree Hills,  Ree Heights (originally Siding #4)  has an Indian burial ground nearby.  Near here is the site of a buffalo kill area used by the early Indians. At this site is a "kitchen" area where the buffalo were butchered, cooked and made into "pemican" for future use.

In 1882, stage lines ran from Miller north to Faulkton (Faulk County) and south to Kimball. (Brule County)

One of Miller's illustrious citizens was Harlan J. Bushfield who came to Miller in 1883, serving in many town, county, and state positions. He served as Governor of South Dakota from 1939 through 1943 and was United States Senator from South Dakota from 1943 until his death on September 27, 1948.

Sunshine Bible Academy, built in 1955, is a Protestant high school  located 13 miles south of Miller.

The "South Hand Old Settlers Picnic" is held each year in June and draws a crowd from both Buffalo and Hand Counties.

The rural stores of Hand County have been very much a way of life for many years. Currently only two of these stores remain. The Highway Store on highway 45 in southern Hand County is still operating. The Polo Store in northern Hand County would be an interesting spot for tourists to visit, [Closed-csr] as well as Polo's  St. Liborious school and church.

Colleen Scheaffer has recently written the history of Polo, and her book,
Polo--Past and Present,  can be found at the Hand County Library in Miller.